Sep 13, 2016

A Last (?) Short Season

My 2016 MSF/MMSC training season appears to be pretty much indicative of the motorcycle training business in general. Due to a physical problem, last year’s fairly normal season got cut short around late July. Since 2001, I’ve been doing 15-25 Basic and (recently renamed) Intermediate classes a year along with the occasional Skills Retest and Maintenance class. Last year, I’d signed up for 16 classes and managed to teach a dozen before my right foot turned into a pain generator and I had to bail out of the last portion of my season. I hadn’t missed a class in 14 years before that season.

This year, I decided to downsize my participation to the minimum 4 classes.Honestly, I didn’t have much fun last season and have been wondering if I’m near the point where teaching anything to anyone has lost its appeal. I have been doing some sort of education function for almost 40 years; either as a corporate trainer or a college instructor. My father was a high school math and accounting teacher and I never imagined myself following in his career footsteps, but I did; sort of. My tolerance for fools has never been well developed, but it appears to be vanishing altogether in my cranky old age. I can put up with miles of inexperience, but I can’t move and inch to fix deliberate stupidity. When I first started training technicians, in the mid-70’s, I was ruthless when it came to putting up with a tech who wanted the planet to revolve in his direction. Several of my employers moved asshole employees into my departments because they didn’t have the balls or personal organization and disipline to fire them. I have always believed in saying (and documenting) what I am going to do and doing what I say I will do. If I say, “Screw up three times and you’re fired,” you should assume that when you’re at two strikes you better not swing at a bad pitch.

Part of what convinced me to quit my college teaching gig was that my ability to make the classroom rules and enforce them had vanished. Probably the worst thing about activities like for-profit education, healthcare, resource management, and like things is that management can rarely remember the purpose of the organization, beyond providing large salaries to management, for any length of time. When the rules for an activity are changed to keep the income steady for mismanagement, the rules no long exist and neither does the purpose of the activity. And so it went for my college teaching career.

The rules for motorcycle safety instruction have never been designed toward improving motorcycle safety. The MSF is OWNED by the MIC, which is all about putting butts with credit or cash on motorcycle seats. “Safety” is just the smokescreen used to justify avoiding the sort of government regulations that motorcycling’s awful safety record would warrant. Any other activity that would cost the nation’s taxpayers a good bit over $16B per year while providing little-to-no valuable utility (except guns and “financial services”) would see the regulation hammer drop like a brick on an ant. Like most for-profit organizations, the MIC has no strong reason to care if its customers die shortly after handing over their cash or the dealers sell the loans to some TBTF bank. It’s not like motorcycling has a long future in sight for these folks or that their execs have a financial motivation to provide for the future of the companies they mismanage.

In fact, the MSF program carefully orders instructors and program managers not to make claims about the MSF’s training having any effect on motorcycle safety. And that’s because it doesn’t. Not only does the MSF know that training doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do, it doesn’t appear to work anywhere. One of the attractions to teaching is the feedback an instructor gets when people learn a skill and begin on a path toward mastering it. Trust me, it’s not about the money. Take away the hope there was a reason for spending a hot summer weekend on a parking lot walking 11-miles-per-day putting down and picking up cones, avoiding and preventing injury from a runaway motorcycle and motorcyclist or ten, and listening to people whine when they manage to fail the grossly-easy “skills test” at the end and you kill a lot of instructor motivation. 

Teaching the “Intermediate Safety Course” (IRC) is often way less fun or advanced than the “Basic” course. Overcoming the myths and objections of so-called experienced riders is wearing. I’ve dealth with two-year-olds who were more informed than the majority of over-50 Harley riders; especially the “club” characters who are just making the motions toward motorcycle safety to justify their gang patches and pirate parades.

One of the main consumers of the IRC has been Polaris, with a requirement that employees must obtain a motorcycle license and take both the BRC and IRC before they can  “check out” bikes from the company’s reverse-engineering inventory and Indian/Victory loaners. To accomodate those wannabe “motorcyclists” who want to ride but don’t want to have to actually buy a motorcycle, we ran an experiment a couple of years ago with allowing IRC customers to use the BRC bikes along with taking the MSF’s IRC test at the end. The results were pretty good, but the outcome was that we’re now allowing IRC students to use the small bikes but we’re blowing off the test. If there was ever evidence that we are not serious about providing actual results from motorcycle training, it was this for me.

So, at the end of this season I’m going to be spending the winter contemplating my motorcycle safety training “career.” Like most teaching gigs in the US, I think the average length of a motorcycle trainer’s career is less than 3 years. You’d think getting to play with motorcycles for fun and profit would be a better gig, but it isn’t in most states. Again, it’s the feedback reinforcement that overcomes the downsides to teaching and they aren’t there.

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